Friday, May 16, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007) [6]

It's hard to dislike this film because it's central message, of finding some kind of optimism in a horrible situation, is something that most humans are programmed to react favorably to. I have no qualms with what the film says but I don't completely buy into the way it's constructed. Schnabel has received a lot of accolades for his decision to make the camera a first person device, letting the viewer experience what Jean-Dominique Bauby experienced after he suffered a massive stroke. It's not a bad decision but to me, it feels that Schnabel is doing too much of the work. Of course it's going to be incomprehensible to know that experience that Bauby was in, but it feels put upon by Schnabel is this is how the viewer should feel. I'm never completely comfortable having this made up for me before I really get into the film. Perhaps I'm making too much out of this but I feel this is the one element that is causing the film to be praised. It's skilled filmmaking, no doubt; however, its force of perspective doesn't enthrall me. If you want visual flair, go watch some Brakhage or Ernie Gehr. Outside of that, I found when the film removes itself from Bauby's perspective, it becomes better. Mathieu Amalric is in a tough position as Bauby, playing a difficult role that by its nature, doesn't call attention to itself. This may not sound like me, but the moments that speak truest are the ones that border on middlebrow melodrama, family strife and the connections the paralyzed Bauby makes with his caretakers. Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, and Anne Cosigny are all very good but it's Max Van Sydow as Bauby's ailing father that's the real unsung character of this. The scene where he calls his paralyzed son does more to express the themes of life and death, the optimism over despair that Schnabel spells out through the rest. Only a heartless cynic could find this film trite but let's not fall over ourselves praising it either. The story may be inspiring but there are stylistic flaws I just don't agree with.

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